Elaine (Samantha Robinson) is a husky-voiced modern-day witch who leaves San Francisco after the mysterious death of her husband Jerry (Stephen Wozniak). As she rides on her car to California – blue eye shadow, winged eyeliner, jet black hair – she has an inner monologue: ‘I’m starting a new life’. She arrives at a large Victorian house where she practices witchcraft and dabbles in some very unusual painting. She soon discovers her niche within the community and finds herself reborn within an underground coven. Very quickly she becomes self-absorbed on her quest: the search for true love.
She relives her ex-husband’s death with every man she encounters, whether he’s taken or not. Grabbing every opportunity to wield her power and control, making love potions and casting spells on men seems to be her primal focus. But new friend and neighbour Trish (Laura Waddell) warns Elaine that she’s a mere victim of the patriarchy. This doesn’t stop her from finding her first victim while out for a stroll in a park: Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), a university teacher. Elaine sees her first opportunity to shine: she makes him dinner, intoxicates him with love, dances and seduces him. Emotions begin to flow out of him, which she sees as a petty ordeal. ‘All the women that I’m attracted to physically are never bright enough. And all the bright ones are homely and don’t arouse me’, Wayne says. ‘That seems like quite a problem’, she whispers, pouting and holding him. ‘It is’, he cries.
What happens here is an entertaining reversal of gender roles. But she still wants to cater for her man’s needs, and so she cooks for him while he watches her. This self-objectification and no-strings-attached attitude represent the femme fatale archetype. Samantha has an extreme poise and a certain je ne sais quoi about her, and it all works out perfectly. Despite the erotic retro look, the movie is not a cheap copy of B-flicks from the ’50s and ’60s (apart from the remarkable styling and clothing). Specific techniques (such as dim and colourful lighting) combined with highly stylised and melodramatic dialogue work to build a heightened reality for these characters.
Stylistically, classics like Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) or Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973) will spring to mind. Whether we’re on a pink tearoom with a harp player on the background, or a Burlesque club with drunken men and showgirls, or under a moonlight ritual with dancing naked bodies, or even a Renaissance fair with random kooky troupes… Biller’s vision never falters.
The Love Witch gives us the female experience with a mythic approach. It feels very familiar and well attuned to today’s chaos. But eventually, it’s safe to say that the hunter gets captured by the game. Ultimately, the film is both humorous and politically-charged. It will evoke a sneaky smile on the face of privilege and sexism.
The Love Witch is out in cinemas on Friday March 10th, and don’t forget to watch the film trailer before heading to the theatre: